I am not the first Watson fellow who has studied the City of the Dead. In 1992 Jeffery Nedoroscik studied this same topic and spent a year in Cairo (instead of two months) getting to know the people and monuments of the city. His project was titled, “Homelessness in Cairo’s City of the Dead.” After this he wrote two books based off of his research and experiences. The first is a guided walking tour through the cemetery and the second is “The City of the Dead: A History of Cairo’s Cemetery Communities.” These texts have been extremely helpful as I am trying to become familiar and navigate this unique place. Obviously our projects are different because my visit is shorter, comparative, and using art, but without his work my research would be in a very different place. I have the luxury of going beyond what he laid out and asking new questions about the space. Also simply as a woman in 2015 with the invention of Facebook and very easy access to internet my experiences will be different. I am also seeing a post-revolution Egypt and unfortunately the cemetery has evolved a bit from what was formerly a safe place to walk around alone.
I am very sad to share Jeffery actually passed away in 2012 during an
accidental fire at his U.S. home. He was 42 and spent the previous 18 years after the Watson working for USAID — the United States Agency for International Development– in Egypt, Rwanda, Croatia, and Southern Sudan.
This is one of those situations where I wish I could email Jeffery and tell him how valuable his work is to me. I would do anything to sit down and have a conversation about his own Watson year and learn from his experience. At least I am very luck to have the books, and will have to be content with those accounts. I thinkit is especially amazing (and an honor) to also be a Watson Fellow, born the year when he was on his journey, and re-trace his footsteps 22 years later. I am using the guides he wrote exactly for this sort of purpose. Death is something that we cannot avoid or solve, as he very well knew studying living communities cemeteries, but we can always learn more from it. I am happy to be the person continuing his work.